Friday 21 June 2019

/ by Colin Udoh

Thomas Dennerby must plot a way past Germany for the Super Falcons

It was close, very close. And the spontaneous outbreak of tearful jubilation that swept through the Super Falcons hotel at the final whistle of the Chile v Thailand game which sent them to the round of 16, was proof positive that the girls knew how lucky they were.

And so for the first time since that legendary class of 99 made it out of the group stages of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Nigeria have once again made it oit, but only by the skin of their teeth.

Nigerians celebrated with the team, but there was still a feeling on social media among fans that this squad were lucky and do not quite have what it takes to advance any yfurther. Especially in the light of the opposition that lies in wait for them: Germany.

Unlike the current iteration, the Class of 99 did not have to depend on others to advance. They did it all on their own, with wins against Denmark and North Korea, two sides immensely stronger than the South Korea that this side scraped past in a 16 team tournament.

Their only group loss was to a rampant USA, who tore them a new one. Buttheir quarterfinal game against Brazil was one for the ages. One where they came from a three-goal deficit to tie 3-3 only to lose to a superb Sissi free kick in extra time.

It was on the strength of those performance that the Super Falcons earned the respect of Nigerians, made their way into conversations, became legends and paved the way for the generations following them, including the current team.

At the time, all of the players in that squad played in the domestic league and did not have the exposure of playing abroad that the current team has. They were also coached by Ismaila Mabo, a local.

Twenty years on, 16 of the 23 players in the current side play professional football outside Nigeria, with more exposure and more knowledge of the players they face.

But in three group games so far, the team have not quite played with the same verve, speed and cohesion of their predecessors. They best game was against France, when they bunkered down, went narrow to close up spaces and tried to hit on the counter.

It was still largely disjointed, but they were one controversial penalty decision away from making it work. And for all the direness of the aesthetics, that deserves it’s own kind of credit.

Now they have been handed a lifeline into the knockout stages, it I time for this team to bring out the talent that they so clearly have. It is time for them to show the experience they have garnered playing in some of the best leagues in the world. It is the for them to show the character developed from playing against some of the best players in the world in England, USA, Sweden, Norway, China and even as far as Australia.

Saturday will be the day that this team either join that Class of 99 in the pantheon of legends, or end up as a footnote of players who had so much talent and experience, but failed to deliver.

Germany may have won their group with a perfect record of 9 points but they are not the terrifying juggernaut who reached and won consecutive World Cup Finals in 2003 and 2007.

That performance against France one of the strongest teams in the world, provides a template, if not a pathway for how to approach and beat Germany.

Their tactics must be spot on, but beyond that, they must go into theme with a desire and determination to win. Losing gallantly may be acceptable but it will not make legends of them. It will not galvanise a country around them. It will not change the narrative of their story.

What will do all of that, and start them on the road to legend, is a win against Germany. They ave the talent to do it. All they need now is the belief, and the execution.

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